FRUIT and vegetable industry groups have largely welcomed the federal government's response to the Horticulture Code of Conduct review but acknowledge the details of the final Code will be telling.
Ausveg gave a swift thumbs-up to the revisions in the government's released response released earlier this month.
Ausveg chief executive officer, James Whiteside, said the code had been in need of reform for many years to make it more relevant to growers.
"It’s great to see the government taking the review’s key recommendations on board and committing to increasing transparency and accountability under the code,” Mr Whiteside said.
Mr Whiteside made particular mention of the government's intention to introduce civil penalty provisions for key aspects of the code, enhancing the enforcement tools available to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission by allowing it to impose fines for breaches of the code.
“The announcement of civil penalties means there are now greater recourses available for all parties who have suffered from behaviour which breaches the obligations laid out by the code,” Mr Whiteside said.
Wholesaler representative group, Fresh Markets Australia (FMA), was largely in support of the response, and congratulated the government for its efforts in seeking to achieve a balanced, commercial outcome in its review.
FMA executive director, Andrew Young, said there were concerns with just two areas, with the government not supporting the inclusion of deeming provisions in the code, while at the same time supporting the inclusion of monetary penalties.
According to FMA, the lack of deeming provisions, which provide for deemed code compliance when a grower continues to supply product to a wholesaler when they have not returned a signed terms of trade document, can also mean that a grower can unintentionally force a wholesaler to breach the code.
“FMA believes that the inclusion of monetary penalties will be anti-competitive as these provisions will apply to just one sector of the industry,” Mr Young said.
“It is noted that similar monetary penalties do not exist under the voluntary Food and Grocery Code which applies to the retail chains, while there is no regulation of other retailers buying direct from growers.
"There is therefore a significant risk that the code will be anti-competitive. Accordingly, penalties must only be applied in extreme cases."